Saturday, July 12, 2014

Worried Yet, Cleveland?

News today that after the very best day of Cavalier Fan's Life -- the return of the once and future King. LeBron James -- that's there's a turd in the punch bowl. It's the fact, brushed aside for now but certain to come back with a vengeance later, that his deal is only for two years, and he can opt out after a year.

Honest. One year.

And sure, James is committed to Cleveland, and he's written that lovely piece of PR for Sports Illustrated about going home, and look at all that young talent that he's going to mentor!

For, well, at least a year. Twelve good months of mentoring. And training camp doesn't start until October, and the season can end in April, so maybe eight months of mentoring. Quality mentoring.

Assuming, of course, that his new criminally inexperienced at the NBA level coach doesn't run into any issues. Assuming, of course, that Kyrie Irving, who has helped no one get better in his presence despite being a point guard, doesn't have a problem sharing the ball and the play making, and starts actually hitting open catch and shoot jumpers. (He was the second-worst guard in the NBA at that, by the way, in 2013-14. Whoops.) Assuming, of course, that Irving stays healthy, which he hasn't, um, quite so much. Point guards being like that, seemingly.

And that all of those young forwards -- Tristan Thomposn, Anthony Bennett, I'm looking at you -- figure out how to play in a situation where your touches are borderline accidental. Or that your young guards -- Anthony Wiggins, Dion Waiters -- stick around and figure out a role, assuming they all don't go out the door for another star, since the rumors are all about Minnesota loading out Kevin Love before he walks. (In all likelihood, to Golden State.)

Now, I get that the lEast is the place to be to get good fast, and that your path to the Finals is immensely easier in the JV Conference. But note that even veteran talent with Miami, with what turned out to be one of the best coaches in the NBA, didn't work out in Year One. Note also that when things worked in Miami, it was because of outstanding defense across the board. James can defend anyone on the floor, Dwyane Wade when healthy was the best shot blocking 2-guard in the history of the Association, and Chris Bosh was the rare big who could stay on the floor and close out on three point shooters late. This Cleveland team, as currently constituted, has three plus defenders -- James, Wiggins and Anderson Varejao -- and then no one that's even average. (As I'm writing this, the Cavs just got Brendan Haywood from Charlotte, who is probably still OK at defense, given that he's still in the league and was never good at offense. But I digress.)

It takes time to gel as a team in the Association. You can short-circuit that with vets in their prime, as James did with the Heat, and Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen did with the Celtics. With a young team, you usually have to build to it, with losses in deeper and deeper rounds before getting your ring. There's also what happens if James gets his security blanket aging shooters to come to Ohio (Mike Miller, Ray Allen), and if those guys succumb to age and don't work out.

James is 30, with the most miles on his knees ever for a 30-year-old. He wants rings, which means staying in the East. He's repaired his good guy image (as if anyone with a functioning brain was ready to go down the heel-face path of Story Not Game, but that is the world we live in), and he's made the Cavs the early dumb money pick to win the Championship next year. He's the best player in the world, and he should make the Finals, so, well, yeah.

But with the Bulls adding Pau Gasol and (maybe) a healthy Derrick Rose, and no change to the coaching situation, you have to think they will be better than the Cavs for a while. Washington has more time together and a better point guard in John Wall, and it's not like Bradley Beal's terrible. Indiana could be good again, especially if they can figure things out how to get First Half of 2013 Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson back. Toronto and Brooklyn and (yeesh) New York are all swinging at it, and there are some secondary free agents out there that could make a difference. With the exception of Playing For The Glorious Future in Philly, there isn't an obvious tank team in the lEast any more. It's going to be better and more wide-open, which means that those 40 minute per game road trips are going to be with James for a while more.

And if it doesn't go well right away, or the Cavs misfire on what appear to be very necessary moves in the immediate future?

James can walk again. In twelve months.

That's the thing about Going Home. Once you've left once, you know you can do it again.

And so does everyone else.

(But then again, I never thought James would leave Miami. And I'm also wondering why Heat Fan isn't blaming Pat Riley, along with James...)


Snd_dsgnr said...

1. Do you think Miami using the amnesty clause on Miller to save Arison money played a role in this? I don't know why that didn't come up more in all the talk leading up to this.

2. Is there a chance that Riley is just overrated as an executive? His drafting has been really hit or miss, the Mourning deal was the result of cheap ass George Shinn, the O'Neal trade was forced by Kobe, the Big 3 era may well have been something the players came up with at the Olympics, and signing vets chasing rings to below market deals isn't exactly hard.

DMtShooter said...

On the first part, it's possible, I suppose, but James would have to have a long memory for grudges. The events of June, and how far Miami looked behind San Antonio, seems to me to be the biggest factor.

As for the second part... you'd have to think so. Winning a few rings with Magic Johnson in his prime, not to mention Kareem and Worthy and the rest of the ridiculously talented Laker cast, doesn't seem like much of a trick. His Knick teams were an abomination to hoop, and you've covered the rest. It reminds me of the terrible track record of NFL coaches over 55, or how the World Series of Poker is never won by a guy over 30 any more. If you've got a life, you aren't going to be as good at this job as other people who don't, and Riles is pushing 70, with a presumed life. Good luck keeping Miami afloat with Chris Bosh and something else from the remainder pile...

DMtShooter said...

Heat getting Luol Deng, which is, well, the very definition of treading water...

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